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Thailand says it will stand by decision to break patents for AIDS drugs

Thailand says it will stand by decision to break patents for AIDS drugs

Thailand will stand by its decision to break patents on pricey U.S.-made AIDS drugs, even though Washington reacted by placing it on a list of copyright violators, the health minister said Wednesday.
Public Health Minister Mongkol Na Songkhla _ who says the government can only afford to provide the drugs to one-fifth of the 500,000 people living with HIV in Thailand _ is scheduled to travel to the U.S. later this month to explain Thailand's decision to Congress and other public and private agencies.
"The measure is meant to allow those in need who can't afford the expensive drugs to have access to them," Mongkol said in a statement Wednesday. "I insist that Thailand will continue with it for the benefit of the public."
According to World Trade Organization agreements, governments can issue compulsory licenses allowing the manufacture, import and sale of cheaper generic versions of patented drugs in case of a national public health emergency. Such actions have been taken by several countries for medicines to treat people with AIDS.
Thailand has announced compulsory licensing for three drugs, including the AIDS drugs Kaletra produced by Abbott Laboratories and Efavirenz by Merck. Both are American companies.
Thailand has ordered a much cheaper generic version of Efavirenz from India to help 20,000 people with AIDS, Mongkol said.
Washington says Thailand lacked "transparency" in announcing the compulsory licenses because it failed to consult with the drug producers.
Siriwat Pharadol, chief of the Food and Drug Administration, said Thailand is not obliged to inform the drug manufacturers, adding that it had tried in vain for two years to convince them to reduce their prices.
Abbott responded to Thailand's decision to break its patent by saying it will not introduce any new drugs in the country because its intellectual property rights were not honored. The company later offered to sell AIDS drugs at a lower price, apparently in exchange for the lifting of the compulsory licensing.
The dispute landed Thailand on the U.S. "Priority Watch List" of nations where American companies face particular problems with the protection of intellectual property rights. Countries on the list are under extra scrutiny and could face trade sanctions if violations worsen.
"This reflects the concerns that Thailand's measures in the protection of copyrights and intellectual property rights have been weaker during the past period," U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce told a news conference Tuesday.
Washington has long had problems with piracy and copyright infringement in Thailand, particularly of movies, music, software, books and brand-name fashion wear. Thailand was on the Priority Watch List in 1989-1992 but had been on the less serious "Watch List" for the past 15 years.


Updated : 2021-07-24 09:48 GMT+08:00